Monday, March 30, 2009

Former Grand Ole Opry Announcer and General Manager Hal Durham Dies at 77

The following is courtesy of the Grand Ole Opry:
Former Grand Ole Opry announcer and General Manager Hal Durham passed away last week. Below is a dedication read during the Saturday night Opry on March 28:

This performance of the Grand Ole Opry is dedicated to Hal Durham, a 32-year veteran of WSM and the Grand Ole Opry, who passed away last night at his home in Florida. Hal was a native of McMinnville, Tennessee and a high school classmate of Opry star Dottie West. Hal's association with the Opry began in 1964 when he joined WSM radio as an announcer. He was named WSM program director seven years later, and in 1974 he became the Opry's manager. He retired in 1996 as President of the Grand Ole Opry Group. Like almost everyone who works here at the Opry, this show became a very important part of Hal's life, and Hal also made an indelible mark on the Opry. Under his leadership, an array of talented artists joined the Opry family as official members, among them: Ronnie Milsap, Ricky Skaggs, The Whites, Lorrie Morgan, Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, and Vince Gill. Hal was much loved by the Opry's members and staff, and he took his role at the helm of this show very seriously. "The Opry is the ultimate," Hal once said. "It is synonymous with being at the top of the ladder, and we can't have off weeks. Each week has to be great. People plan their visit around the Opry knowing they are going to see the greatest show in country music..." And so tonight, we salute our friend Hal Durham and thank him for his years of efforts in making the Opry the ultimate....the top of the ladder... the greatest show in country music.

A very nice tribute at the start of the show. I did not listen to the Saturday night Opry this past week so I missed this. I will listen to the replay on Sirius this coming week and catch it. Like I stated in an earlier post, Hal Durham was the last of the Opry General Managers who came up through the ranks of WSM, and he was the last of the Opry managers to have had an official position with the radio station. He guided the Opry through a very difficult time, when many of the old time members started to reach retirement age and the Opry became less important to many of the younger stars of country music. While we wished he had not, he was wise in lowering the membership requirements to attract many of the younger artists. As those younger artists matured and became more established, many of them have evolved into loyal members of the Opry, such as Vince Gill, Lorrie Morgan, The Whites, Ricky Skaggs and Marty Stuart. And while Garth Brooks does not appear very much, he has always spoken very highly of the Opry and has answered every call the Opry has made. Hal set the standard that Bob Whittaker and, later, Pete Fisher have had to follow. Also, we must remember that Hal and Bob Whittaker were the last of the Opry managers who did not fall under the heavy pressure from Gaylord to make sure that the Opry was a profitable enterprise for Gaylord. When all is said and done, Hal Durham was a fine manager for the Opry and those like him do not come around often enough.


  1. I would add that Garth Brooks doesn't appear much of ANYWHERE very much, but when the Opry calls, he does indeed answer the call.

    I thought it was interesting that Durham added very few members in the 1970s, a time when country music was indeed in a lot of trouble. He chose carefully in the early 1980s, and then went all-in with the new wave of the late 1980s and early 1990s. He was true to the roots of country music, bless him.

  2. In the 1970s, Hal did a good job in not bending to the temptation of the times just to add new members, Otherwise, we could have ended up with Olivia Newton-John, John Denver, or Juice Newton as members. I think he knew that the tide would change and to back to the traditional country music. During that period, the Opry only had around 50 members, which is about a dozen less than today. He also had the benefit of the new Opry house and Opryland, which quaranteed a steady stream of sell-outs to the shows.

  3. All agreed, Fayfare. Also, back then, even while he relaxed the rules, most members were there far more often. Putting on a full show with fewer members was less of a problem, although some of the lineups I have seen from the 1970s were much thinner than the ones in the 1980s and early 1990s.

  4. Indeed, Opryland was a huge feeder into all those Opry shows. Also, Durham had the benefit of having Roy Acuff who worked every show and was the Opry's heart and soul and main ambassador and spokesman during most of Durham's run. Boy, it's hard to believe now in 2009 with the Opry down to one show on many Saturdays during the summer, that at the peak of Opryland in the 70s/80s, in the summer they were running 2 shows on Friday and sometimes a Friday matinee on Top of that, 2 shows on Saturday night with a Saturday matinee, a Sunday matinee, a Tuesday matinee and I believe even a Thursday matinee for a total of 9 shows some weeks.